Summer Goals, #PlayGloria, and Kindergarten Graduation

I go through phases where I write constantly, and then it’s “crickets,” and honestly, I don’t really know why. Is it a self-discipline thing? An emotional thing?

Maybe it’s an energy thing, and I haven’t written anything lately because I’m perennially exhausted.

I’m still here, in case you were wondering (in case I’m wondering?).

The schedule’s returned to an unreachable pace, with David not only being back to work, but working a different shift. I’m so grateful that he’s employed, but I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy. We see each other for around 15-20 minutes per day (usually trying to have conversations that are perpetually interrupted by, “MOOOOMMMMM!” and “LOOOK AT MEEEEEEE!”), and then I’m off to bed, and he’s doing the evening entertainment for the offspring (who couldn’t be happier, because Tired Mom is also BORING Mom). Our marriage is breathing on the fumes of weekends, and our house is perpetually messy.

Our lives are full.

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Meanwhile, since my last post, my son has graduated from Kindergarten. In the ceremony, his class recited Scriptures, sang songs, and basically let us know they were going to join together at some point and take over the world. I believe every one of them could do it. Jericho’s classmates are a beautiful mixture of personalities, and I’ve loved getting to watch them interact over the year. My little guy has matured and learned, and is showing more and more of an amazing personality.

We have Summer Goals (and even as I write that sentence, I’m laughing at myself). None of those goals involve housekeeping, but I supposed it must be done. Frankly, our dog is so old (“how old is she?”) that we’re kind of waiting for her to cross that Rainbow Bridge and go to Jesus, because the carpet will need to be replaced throughout the house…and I’m hankering for a change in our color scheme, so the entire house will need to be overhauled and deep-cleaned. It’s times like this where I’m grateful that we’re still in our “starter home,” and it’s tiny.

I’ve started Jericho on a First Grade curriculum from Brain Quest, and every day, he does 2-4 pages in his workbook. My goal is to get him through the book this summer, just to keep him sharp and to work on his handwriting. He still gets “6,” “9,” “d,” “p,” “g,” and “3” backwards. I haven’t gone so far as to discuss it with my office’s peds department yet…I’m not hugely concerned, because he can correct it when I call him out on it. I’m planning on mentioning it in his eye exam next month.

That being said, get your child’s eyes examined every year! It’s a relatively painless examination that can help their future!!!!  PSA—and done.

ANYHOOO, a little thing happened this week that completely de-railed any attempts that I’ve made to finish this blog in a timely manner. THE SAINT LOUIS BLUES WON THE FREAKING STANLEY CUP, and I’ve cared about little-to-nothing else this week. Image may contain: 1 person, stripes

Since I’m given to panic attacks at the mere THOUGHT of ginormous crowds of people, I’m going to be watching the parade from my app. It’s going to be amazing, and I’m so proud of the team. I’m not a big sports person—I always mention that I don’t like baseball, but I consider myself a Cardinals fan, simply because I love what the camaraderie brings to the city. I do, however, like hockey, and even though I never watch the games (my family is not a “sports” family, but we’ll scream like maniacs at a cooking show), I think hockey requires the most skill and tenacity of any sport. I admire hockey players—anyone that sacrifices their teeth for anything, gets mad respect from me. Also, my youth pastor’s dad was the trainer for the San Jose Sharks back in the 90’s, so my love and appreciation for the game runs deep (I’m SO glad we beat them for the Nationals!).

Sports talk aside, things are moving along at a frantic pace…it’s hard to find time to slow down and EXPERIENCE things, as opposed to just getting through them. I’m usually doing the latter, and by the time a week’s gone by, I’m wondering where it went? Too many hours spent on the couch and not in the sunshine.  Being in a somewhat-constant state of fatigue makes me feel like I’m missing out on so much…oh, and the MOM GUILT!!!  I can’t.

I keep telling myself that I won’t be like this, forever…Jericho asked me the other day, “Mommy, were you ever not tired?” Ouch—that hurt. I basically told him I’ve been tired for the last 7 years. J I’ve been without my Dear Thyroid for 4 years this month, and all of my Facebook Memories that come up threaten to drag me into the Abyss of What-If, so I’m trying to ignore them.

I deal with a lot of “Mom Guilt,” partially because of my personality, and partially because there’s so much to work with.  I’m a working mom who had to use formula, so start there, and work your way up, mom-shamers.  My son is starting to get Six-Year-Old Sassy, and he’s watching too many episodes of “Teen Titans,” (hey, I didn’t start him on it…but they’re hilarious, so now I’m mom-guilting over a moral failure) and eating too many tortilla chips. Overall, though, he’s getting lots of playtime during the day in his summer program, so during the week I’m not feeling tooooooooo horrible about coming home and being chill.

I know this sounds mushy and all, but every day I look at that kid and I swear, I love him more. Even with his sass, he’s still funny and sweet, & he’s creative. His imagination is limitless, and he reminds me of my favorite parts of my own childhood. I need to get back into the routine of reading him a bedtime story; he’s been staying up later than I do, so I’m missing out!!

This summer, we have Six Flags passes, and are planning on going if the sun comes out any time soon on a weekend.  We’ve had so much rain! I love watching Jericho start to tentatively embrace roller coasters. He’s working on riding his new bike; he got a bit scared of it, so we have to ease him back into it. I don’t think I coddle him (David does), but I know so well what it’s like to be afraid of everything, and to feel like less of a person because of it. I don’t want that, for him. When he’s afraid of something, I tell him that it’s okay to be scared. We take it slow, until we’re ready. If he isn’t ready, I think that’s okay—he will be. I’m surprised at my own patience in those cases, but I think that’s what it takes. I want him to enjoy roller coasters and bike rides, and roller skates and bowling, and everything fun (we’re back to bowling again, BTW—I LOVE it!!!). If it’s fearful, it’s not fun, and I know that too well. We have nothing but time, to make those leaps—even if that’s not true, we can live like it is, at 6 years old.

bowlMy goals for this summer are to take it in…to enjoy parenting, and to not enjoy too much TV…to take my time doing life in general, and to spend less time embracing the things that bring me down. I love that song by Lauren Daigle, called “Look Up, Child.” Rico-Bean sings it a lot, and I think it’s major goals, for me. That’s my goal—to Look Up, and to keep from letting myself be weighed down by fatigue, or stress, or whatever albatross has decided to land on my neck. It’s summer—it’s time to get free, to live free, and to stay looking up.

And maybe, to spend some time blasting “Gloria!!!!!” on repeat while my son yells at me because he’s sick of the song….He’ll get over it, and we’ll have these memories to last us a lifetime. I’m so proud of our team. #LETSGOBLUES!!!!!!!!

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Nosebleeds & Dirt & Plants & Snuggles

My little Rico-Bean had a pretty bad nosebleed at school yesterday….like, I had to go get him. 😦 So, the Bible verse that my Mama prayed over me for years is now the verse that I am praying over my son (Ezekiel 16:6). That kinda breaks my heart a little bit; I hope he grows out of this before I did. I never really grew out of it; rather, I got healed of them in my 20’s.

David still gets them, and like me, he had them while growing up. Nosebleeds run rampant on my bio-dad’s side of the family, and with David getting them? Yikes–bring on the prayers and the Vitamin K.

So, before I got the call from the school to come and get my child, I was doing my annual plant purchasing. I bought herbs and annuals, and was fortunate enough to get a few things on sale. I’ve done well with discounted plants! My little $0.50 Japanese fern from Lowe’s, from 8 years ago, is thriving!!! I was supposed to see my MD yesterday, but those plans were thwarted by the call from the school.

I picked Rico up, and everyone said they were so pleased by how calm he stayed. His nose bled for over 30 minutes, which is a lot; he never cried or acted scared, so when he asked me to take him to the store, I caved, and he got some Hot Wheels. 🙂 We went home, & he asked me if he could help plant.

My parents had a nice garden when I was a kid, and even though there were some things I hated (picking beans!!!!!), I loved the idea of getting grounded in planting something new. I had a raised garden for a while, but it became too difficult to maintain between parenthood, my job, and the fatigue that is such an issue. My front yard, however, is doable, and I keep it pretty low-maintenance.

I think Rico-bean just wanted to play in the dirt, but honestly? Since he already had blood on his shirt, what harm could dirt do? So, together, we planted my herbs and flowers. It was fun to work with him, & he was so good!!! He listened, he followed instructions, and he helped to make the work go much faster. He’s getting so big, & I can really see how much he’s matured in this first year of school.

He’s definitely still my little boy, though! I usually go to bed before David, as does Jericho; last night, he said, “Mommy, can we go to sleep like we used to do? I wanna hop in your bed.” So, in he went! We snuggled under the blankets, read a story, and he said our prayers: “God, we just want You to be in control, so please show us Your ways.” I think that’s a pretty great prayer.

A friend of mine has a kid that’s hit the “terrible twos,” and I have to be honest–Jericho was pretty good thru the two’s and three’s, but four?!?!? FOUR WAS NOT FUN. This kindergarten year has been a blast, though, and we are seeing his personality really develop!

I know that I usually blog because I want to sort through an issue or make a point, but today? I just want to document a memory. I want to remember yesterday, not because of the nosebleed, but because of the sweetness of working together with my ever-growing young man, and the cuddles with my forever-little boy. I don’t want to forget the dirty fingers and flushed cheeks, or the innocent prayers and the bubble baths. There is so much beauty in an average day with your kiddo…I need to write it down, because when they’re growing up, nothing is “average.” Everything they do is full of wonder; we’re just too busy to stop and to breathe it in.

I’m breathing it in.

This kid is amazing…as tired as I am, as busy as we get, I have to stop & breathe it in, and make these memories, because otherwise, what am I doing? I don’t want to be 10 years down the road and have forgotten these moments. I love that we have smartphones that make photography second-nature, and there are perks to having the ability to document everything.

Some day, I’ll read over these blogs and be thankful that they’re not all angsty emo-diatribes of whatever I’m sorting out.

I’ll be grateful for the time I took to document the wonder and joy of a dirty, snuggly, adorable little boy and his Hot Wheels, and of an afternoon spent on plants and prayers.

Giving Your Kid Weird Names is Fun…AKA The Promises of God…

My name is Cassidy.

Cassidy Sarah, to be precise.

I’m named thus, in part because of my paternal grandmother (who I never got to meet; I understand she was short & plump, and that’s all I know), and in part, because nobody liked my mom’s other suggestion: Bethany.

By the time I came along in my parents’ marriage, things were NOT going well. My biological father hadn’t really proven to be overly interested in my pending birth, so he didn’t have any input into the name I wound up with. “Cassidy” came from a person who said “hello” to their daughter Cassidy on a game show, that my mother happened to see. The rest is, as they say, history.

I’ve only ever met one Cassidy who is my age. The name had a surge in popularity in the late 80’s or early 90’s, thanks to Kathie Lee Gifford. She named her daughter Cassidy, and then nicknamed her “Casserole,” so if I ever see her, I won’t need a reminder to slap her silly.  Other Cassidys that I’ve met have all been younger, and Lord knows, there’s a TON of spelling variations on the name (Kassidee? Kasidy? Casidy? Cassadee? Some of those hurt to type).

The name “Cassidy” has a few different interpretations. It’s undeniably Irish-Gaelic, and was traditionally a boy’s name. It can mean “clever,” “inventive,” or “Curly-Haired (yes, I’m serious),” and in some cases, it’s defined as meaning, “sly.” That’s flattering, right?

I’ve always believed that whatever you name your child is a proclamation over them for the rest of their lives. When I first looked up my name and saw that it meant “clever,” I wasn’t a fan. Further research made me reconsider; I definitely qualify as “crafty,” given my love of my glue gun (yes, I know, that’s not what “crafty” is inferring, but work with me), and “curly haired?” Really? Shut up. 🙂 I can’t imagine myself with any other name. I’m glad that my mama took a chance on this crazy name, and I’ve slowly gotten over feeling slighted because I can’t find anything personalized.

I recently received an e-mail from my son’s kindergarten teacher. He’s getting ready to graduate (sniff!!), and she does something with the meaning of their names every year in the ceremony. She asked me if there was any special definition we knew that she couldn’t find, because the only definitions she could find were “fragrant” or “City of the Moon.” I had to laugh–it’s come full circle, that the girl with the odd name would, after years of swearing off of odd names for her children, name her son something that’s not going to show up in a Christmas ornament kiosk. So, I had to expound a tiny bit on why we gave our child the unusual moniker shared with a city that got destroyed (and that had a curse attached to it, were it to ever be rebuilt…which it was….and bad things happened).

Even without researching the definition of the name, “Jericho” seemed like a perfect name for my son. It wasn’t just a city that was destroyed for the glory of God and the progression of His people.

It was a city that seemed indestructible.

It was a city that seemed overwhelmingly unstoppable, incredibly protected and well-armed, and like an impenetrable fortress. It was sophisticated, metropolitan, and and a place of great value. When the Israelites looked on the city of Jericho, they knew they didn’t stand a chance….but God said to take it.

He said it was theirs.

He promised them.

And they believed.

By now, you know the story–Jericho’s older sister died, and my heart failed. We were told we’d have no more children, unless I was ready to be too dead to raise them. Doctors told us “no” so many times that my husband was ready to stop asking; I begged for one last appointment, and that doctor (Michael Paul, MD, Missouri Baptist Hospital perinatology) said “yes.” We got pregnant in 2012, and I will never forget the spiritual battles that took place for the entire 36 weeks (okay, 35) that I was pregnant. The first 30 days of my child’s life were some of the toughest days I have ever known (post-partum piled onto everything else), and I was in the fight of my life…but we won.

We all won.

The people of Israel were told to march around the city of Jericho, silently, for 6 days. Only the trumpets could be played (how annoying would THAT be?!?!  I sense a strategy…). On the 7th day, they were told to march around Jericho 7 times, and on the last time, to deliver a mighty roar. When they did this, God moved and the walls of Jericho fell down. The battle was won! The people of Jericho had put all of their faith into those walls–they didn’t have an army that could fight. I’m guessing their army was untrained, because they were so secure in believing those walls would never come down. They were wrong.

God moved, walls fell, and His people took the city.

They took what He promised them.

So did we.

“Jericho” has a few different interpretations in history, but the ones my son’s teacher found are the most common: “Fragrant.” “City of the Moon.” There’s also “City of Palms” (a place of respite?), or these definitions, which talk about “breath,” “way,” or “width.” Those are less common, and I tend to stick to the definition of “fragrant.”

Fragrance is a powerful word in the Bible; it’s mentioned quite a bit, and evokes a lot of sentiment. It’s used by itself and in conjunction with the word, “incense,” which was always used as part of the sanctification processes in the Tabernacle, and symbolized faith that our praises and prayers are heard. Psalms 141:2 says, “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” (NIV) In the Book of Revelations, it talks about incense rising with the prayers of the saints before the Lord.

The fact that my son’s name means something that seems so mundane, but has such a powerful connotation, is not lost on David & I. Every time we speak his name, we’re pouring out over him the fact that he is like a fragrance of worship before the Lord. Day and night, even when we’re in terrible moods, even when times are tough, no matter what happens, he is an answer to prayer and a testimony that resounds in our lives and evokes worship–that’s a powerful name. The kid was born out of prayers and trust, and he doesn’t know it yet, but he has a destiny to worship the Lord.

No pressure, kiddo.

So, yes, Jericho’s teacher, his name means, “fragrance.” And sure, he’s a stinky boy (are all boys stinky? Is that just part of it?!?!), but his heart was formed in the fires of intercession and prayer.

Our son is a living testimony to the promises of God that many people told us were not achievable (you know who told us they were wrong? Joe LoRusso.). We were told “no.” God said, “yes,” and we obeyed Him. Jericho was delivered to us, and our praises and prayers before, during, and after, are the least we can give a God Who kept His promises and blessed our socks off.

There’s a song called, “Worthy of It All” by David Brymer. It became a cornerstone song in my life during my pregnancy with Jericho, even before he got his name. My pregnancy was tough…really, really tough…and I’d sing this song to remind myself that God’s plan was worthy of all of it. I needed to anchor myself and remember that He is GOOD, and that He doesn’t fail, regardless of the past, regardless of the future, and regardless of the fears. He is WORTHY, even if you can’t see the outcome.

There’s a section of the song that says, “Day and night, night and day, let incense arise.” There is worship around the throne of God for infinity–it doesn’t stop. My prayer for my son is that he would learn the significance of his name…that he would know the power of God in his life, and that he would live to point others toward worshiping the Lord….that his life would be like that fragrance that rises before the throne, dedicated to Him and knowing His love…of knowing wholeheartedly that Jesus is Worthy of it All…

We’ve named our child well.

Oh, and if you’re curious, his middle name is “Daniel,” which means, “God is my Judge.” To this day, every time I think of the meaning of his middle name, I think of Tupac….but I never told my husband that when we were choosing names. 🙂

 

 

Faith and Finding Your Fabulous with the Fab Five…

Me on Sunday Morning: “God LOVES us!!!  He restores us and He renews us!”

Me on Thursday night: “I AM SO INADEQUATE! I feel pushed in so many different directions! I’m EXHAUSTED!!  This SUCKS!!  Why am I such A TOTAL FAILURE?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?” Aaaand, cue the sleepless night.

Why do I live in this world of polarities?

So, little-known-fact: I absolutely love the show, “Queer Eye.” Of course, being that I run in mid-American Judeo-Christian circles, I know that this admission may bring some Internet or in-person-based gooey, thick judgeyness, but whatever. I’m not changing my mind.

I’m not going to argue about it. I’m just going to remind you that we’re all made by a God Who loves us & that we are all on our own journey. We don’t have to agree; we DO have to love, and according to 1 Peter 3:15, we have to be respectful. SO, that’s all I have to say, about that (and no, we’re not going to engage about their personal politics. Off the table).

Anyways, I love the show, “Queer Eye.” The biggest takeaway I have from the show is that these 5 men, from 5 totally different walks of life, have each grown into the “simple” act of BECOMING, and they take their subjects along the same route. They’ve each learned to accept themselves, to love themselves (even on days when they’re struggling), and to teach others to do the same. I’m not very good at that, so I love seeing people succeed on that journey.  I started writing this blog yesterday, and then watched another episode on Netflix. Lo and behold, it was the episode featuring those Barbecuing Babes, The Jones Sisters. Every episode makes me tear up, but this one had me Katy-Perry-Ugly-Crying.

I’ve struggled with my weight for the past, oh, I don’t know, TWENTY YEARS? I’ve never accepted my body, whether it was as a 14-year old with gigantic boobs, or as a 41-year old with a gigantic butt (and not in the sexy, Kim-Kardashian way). I’ve struggled with my looks, particularly as multiple surgeries have left some pretty unflattering scars. I oscillate between thinking my face is okay, and “OHMYGODWHYDOISTILLHAVEACNEAND WRINKLES?!?!?”

I can pick apart my personality to an obsessive degree: “You’re stupid. You’re not funny. Your sense of timing is crap. SO many people are smarter than you.  You’re never going to be successful. You’re just support staff. You basically just suck and are wasting your time. Oh, you’re bad at math, you’re a terrible mom, and you’re fat.”

I can DESTROY my faith; I constantly feel like people are judging my output….like, I don’t go to this meeting, or to this church, or I don’t raise my hands enough, or OMG, bad things have happened to me, so God must hate me. Whatever.

I know it’s all lies…but I find myself believing them anyways.

How can I say that we’re all created by a God Who made us in His image, but then have such a deprecating monologue?

How can I say that God restores us and renews us, yet beat myself up continually for my seemingly-perpetual state of exhaustion (it’s not an imagined exhaustion—I literally have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome caused by my thyroidectomy. I don’t think I’ve ever actually written that down before)?

And here comes the guilt from the constant struggle of living in a dichotomy…

I watch the guys on “Queer Eye,” and I follow them on Instagram. They’re a bevy of positivity. I also follow Tess Holliday (founder of the #EffYourBeautyStandards hashtag) and several other body-positive influencers. They’re all younger than me, and way cooler than me, and they’re doing an amazing job of being candid, positive, and strong. They show strength in honesty and in vulnerability, and even though they’re not “religious” influencers, I still find my spirit encouraged by them.

They’re “unconventional.” They’re not from “my” people (you know what I mean—don’t get it twisted. I’m referring to the stereotype of the church-raised, Midwest-born cisgender, straight, suburban/rural mom, and/or one of my previously-blogged-about Great White Women of Hope that I’m supposed to strive to be like…and that I gloriously fail in striving to be like…). They’re POC, or they’re gay, or they’re bi, or they’re EXTREMELY politically liberal, or whatever. They’re all the kind of people that a lot of people I know would love nothing more than to engage in enraged discussions with, and I want nothing to do with that.

I love them.

I love that when they look at someone who looks like me—average height, overweight, struggling—they see something beautiful. They look past what I perceive are flaws, and they find BEAUTY. They bring it out…isn’t that what we’re supposed to do for each other, not only as Christians, but as human Beings?

They’ve taught me to rethink my narrative….to reconsider the self-deprecating “humor.” I only tell fat jokes because in my brain, it’s (I’m) the elephant in the room, so if I just bring it up and make it funny, it’s okay and I’m getting the inevitable out of the way. THAT’S A LIE. Bobby, Tan, Karamo, Antoni, and JVN would NOT hear those words coming out of my mouth!!!!  Karamo would probably stick me in intensive therapy to learn how to see myself better, and how to speak better about myself. He LITERALLY recorded one guy and when the man heard how many times he fat-shamed himself, he was shook. I should try that.

A few years ago, before we got pregnant with our son, I had a conversation with David where I was the most vulnerable I have ever been. I told him that I thought God hated me. I had to come to a place where I could allow myself to trust that no, He actually LOVES me. Jesus LOVES me. I still struggle with it on a daily basis; it’s like I somehow have to un-brainwash myself, and it takes time. I have to push myself out of the thought pattern that, “people only say they love you because they feel  obligated to.” No, Cassidy, there are people out there that truly, deeply love you (um, like your husband? Seriously!?).  I feel like those are words that I need tattooed on my arm, to remind me that I’m not some wretched being. I’m not.

Christianity fails us when it doesn’t teach that Jesus loves us and that we can foster a relationship with God. Too often we sit in churches or classes that teach us that we’re never good enough for anything, and that we have to fit into a certain mold before He’ll accept us. That’s religion. I’m not about that, and neither is God. I’m not going to get all Calvinistic on you, but GRACE IS AWESOME. We are so loved, and our Father wants to know us. He wants us to know Him, and life is about that process–it’s about building that relationship between Him and us, not about us thinking we’ll never measure up, we suck, etc., He never says that. He gives grace, He loves us in ways we can’t understand, and He knows our hearts. When we build that relationship with him, it pours over into every facet of how we view ourselves and how we treat other people. It’s gorgeous!!

Why have I allowed erroneous, religious, self-flagellating theology to make me think that it’s a bad thing, to look in the mirror and be satisfied with what I see? Fat, scars, acne, wrinkles—it’s all part of my story, even the parts that aren’t pretty, so why can’t I look at this whole package and be thankful that I’m still here? For women in particular, I think we’ve been brainwashed into believing that negative self-talk is a requirement, and that we have to trust in other people to validate us in order for us to count. What a crock, right?!?

It’s hard for me to look in a mirror and like what I see. Is it arrogant? Is it foolish? Sure, I will take a selfie (thanks, Cousin Lisa, for that lesson in angles so many years ago!) if I feel like I look less-Princess-Fiona-ish or if I like my outfit. I think I’ve learned from the Instagram influencers that I follow that it’s good to documkermitent your journey, even if it doesn’t get you any clicks. As a mom, it’s hard for me to remember sometimes to snap that picture; however, I think of how I feel about pictures of MY mom when she was my age, and I want to recreate those feelings for my son. “Hey, Rico! Here’s your Mama feeling herself in that Kermit shirt!!!!! “ LOL!  Seriously, though—Maybe my mom didn’t feel like she was beautiful in every picture that I have of her, but I definitely think she was and is. I’m glad I have every picture of her that I have. David taught me the value of a photograph, and I respect photography as a method of journaling. Sometimes a selfie is just that—it’s a diary entry that happens to be public…kinda like a blog.

I’m learning to accept myself and the skin that I’m in. I’m learning that less is more….That I don’t “need” more to fill the void; I just need to redirect my focus on positive thoughts and on uplifting my spirit to fill the void. In Philippians 4, Paul talks about being content both with and without…I think that verse, and the other verses in the link, are verses that I/we could read every day just to teach us how to not only be grateful to God, but also how to love and respect where we are in life, be it how we look, where we work, or whatever our “station” is. I have to learn to love where I am and who I am, right now, before I can improve.

Part of that, for me, includes deluging my brain with positivity….Not positivity for the sake of lying to myself….more like, positivity for the sake of keeping my sanity and of finding my worth, and for the sake of the actual truth.  The Fab Five are SO positive, watching them make life-changing decisions and re-wire stuck mental concepts for internal success, has been good for my soul. It’s one thing to know you need to reboot your outlook…it’s another thing to actually watch it happen, and to learn how you can do it for yourself.

It makes me stop and think, and it makes me grateful to know the God Who created me with Love. Honestly, it makes me want to build that relationship with Him even more.

There’s a beautiful thing that happens in every episode of “Queer Eye,” where you see the subject look at themselves in the mirror, and you see them “snap.” It’s like someone takes the blinders off of their eyes and their minds; they realize, whether it’s because of Karamo’s life-goals; JVN’s hairography; Tan’s closet overhaul; Antoni’s food love; or Bobby’s renovation (seriously, he works THE HARDEST, and he’s my favorite); they realize that THEY’RE WORTH IT. They’re worth self-care! They’re worth having an organized household! They’re worth eating good, quality food! They’re worth LOVING!!!!!!! It’s like no one ever told them these things, or if they were told, they forgot!!!

The Fab Five REMIND them of who they TRULY are, and I think that’s an important spiritual truth.

I need to be reminded of Who I Am.

There’s a scene in Moana where she is facing the fire demon/god on the island, and she has to replace the Heart of Te Fiti. Moana has a SNAP moment where she realizes that the Fire Demon/god IS Te Fiti, but she’s completely forgotten it over time, and has resigned herself to being this horrible, terrifying being.

She bravely takes the Heart stone, and walks up to the scary monster….She sings the lines, “This is not who you are; I know who you are,” and she puts the heart back in its rightful place. SPOILER ALERT: The monster turns into Te Fiti, and the land is beautiful and fertile once again.

To me, it’s one of the single most spiritual moments I have ever seen in a film (and I’ve probably blogged about it before). You’ve been broken and burned; you’ve lost your heart and your way, and you don’t even realize it. Someone believes in you…someone sees you for who you truly are…and your heart is restored and healed. It’s what Jesus does for us on every possible level. He knows Who We Are…and He knows WHO HE MADE US TO BE.

I firmly believe that God uses unconventional methods to minister to our hearts. For me, it’s watching 5 guys give makeovers in rural America….5 men who see beautiful hearts in everyone they meet, and who just wants to help them live their absolute best life…5 men who know that human beings are WORTH fostering and loving, regardless of their appearances….5 guys who have faced their own journeys, failures, and successes, and who are on a mission to leave blessings and positivity everywhere they go.

I NEED THAT KIND OF LOVE IN MY LIFE, Y’ALL!!!!  Confidence in abilities, goals and achievements, having someone else not only see something in you, but having the ability to help you bring it out—isn’t that what we’re supposed to do for each other?!?  I need to do that for people! I need it for myself! Jesus says I’m worth something, and so are you…even if we just say the words to ourselves, it’s positivity we can speak into ourselves. Negative self-talk is so easy, and I know I feel stupid if I say, “Dang it, YOU’RE WORTH IT!” (Shout-out to Stuart Smalley!)! But I/we need to!

We can speak Bible verses aloud to ourselves about how much God loves us. We can literally write down things that we like about ourselves in order to offset those negative attacks of the Enemy. We can share those verses with people around us that are struggling, and we can help others, and ourselves, find our SNAP moment where we catch a glimpse of how HE sees us…how Jesus sees us….

So, thank you,  Queer Eye….Thank you for being a reminder that regardless of what I think I see, there is so much more, and that there is more than enough to bridge the gap between Sunday and Thursday night. Thank you for being one more thing in this world to point me back to the love and the value that God pours over us.

There’s nothing more fabulous than that. ❤

qe

P.S. (This is where I fan-girl out): IF I WERE TO EVER get the chance to meet them, I might die–and yes, I am a 41-year old grown woman. Also, my husband is dying to know how Tan does his hair. Also, I want to hug Antoni and Bobby in particular and tell them I’m sorry on behalf of every Christian that hurt their beautiful giant hearts, because that’s not what we’re supposed to be about. Also, I want Karamo to know his mental revolution of the guy that got married in the 3rd season WRECKED ME & was better than most sermons I’ve sat through. Finally, I want JVN to know that I would NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS enter into a political debate with him, because sister knows her stuff–JVN would DESTROY me. Even though we disagree on some things, I just like to hear him talk, because to hear someone of any side of a debate intelligently explain their position is like gold these days, and I am here for ALL of it.

Y’all got me writing with bad grammar. I’m shook. That is all. ❤

Joe.

When David & I got married in the spring of 2005, he said we needed to get back into a church.

I’d been hurt–really hurt–and had taken a year off before our wedding to focus on building our relationship and planning a wedding…or at least, that’s what I told myself. Really, I just took a year off to be a giant slug that spent weekends visiting my fiancée. 🙂 I didn’t want to go to church; I wanted to sleep in and go on adventures.

So, we did.

And then we got married. 🙂 He said, “We need to go to church.” I drug my feet (I really, really like to sleep). He said, “No, really–we’re going to church.”

So, we did.

He took me to a church at the corner of Lindbergh & Sappington. I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first day there. I met Felina Stevens and Lynn Renaud, and thought to myself, “there’s no way those people are really that nice.” Like I said, I’d been REALLY hurt. So, I lifted one eyebrow in skepticism, and I watched for WEEKS. Finally, I was convinced–all of these people REALLY WERE that nice. Crazy.

Pastors Joe and Sherry LoRusso welcomed us into their church like extra family members. Sherry & I had some similar parenting adventures, and she began to open up to me about how she processed, forgave, and moved forward through her hurts. She counseled me through so much healing, and she may not know this, but she’s probably the most influential reason as to why my relationship with my mother is so much better today than it was at that time. Pastor Joe–well, Pastor Joe brought me more joy and love than I probably ever expressed to him.

Pastor Joe went home to the Lord yesterday, and I’m still processing. A dear friend called me and told me directly, and protected me from discovering his passing over social media. I don’t think I will ever forget that gesture–what an amazing thing for a friend to do. Social media is not how anyone should discover that someone has passed away, so I am grateful for the personal discussion.

Pastor Joe had been through a great many physical challenges over the past year, but in my heart of hearts, I truly thought we’d see him back in the pulpit at some point. The pulpit was where he belonged.

I look back over my time at Rivers of Life church in those tender years….We started going in the spring of 2005, and just over a year later, in the fall of 2006, our daughter passed away. That congregation not only celebrated my pregnancy and Hannah’s birth with us; they carried us through her death and her funeral. Pastors Joe & Sherry were by our side for hours on end at the hospital; one of the most impactful images in my life is seeing Joe literally on the floor of the waiting room, crying out to God and interceding for our daughter. Having pastors that will get on the floor and fight your battles with you, is one of the most amazing experiences a Christian could ever hope to have. I know that sounds weird–who wants to go through those parts of life?!?!?  Going through Hell, verses going through Hell side-by-side with warriors–there’s a huge difference. I will never, ever forget the way they interceded for us. I’d never seen prayers like that, or dedication like that, and it changed my life.

People don’t know this, but Joe & Sherry jumped in and planned Hannah’s funeral for us, because we simply couldn’t. They utilized church funds to help us cover expenses (David was out of work at the time), and they rallied our community to cover meals during and after Hannah’s hospital stay. They created a network of support; they brought together other women who had been in my shoes to help me navigate the years after losing my daughter. They literally kept David & I breathing after we lost our child, and not once did they EVER make us feel like we weren’t healing or processing  or grieving inappropriately. They gave us the gift of a safe place to grieve.

In the years that followed, when every doctor in every state that I visited said I couldn’t have anymore children, Joe believed. He believed when everyone around me told me to give up and said I should get over it. I believed, and Joe believed.

JOE LORUSSO BELIEVED IN THE HEALING POWER OF A LOVING GOD, and no matter where he went, who he lost, or what illness he went through, that belief didn’t waiver.

I know that Joe & Sherry are tremendously influential in the spiritual DNA of St. Louis. Coming out of New Covenant (I think?) and then Hill Fellowship, Joe’s leadership in the church has had international influence. He is…was…a great, great man….a great family man, and an amazing father.

But to me, he is…was…my pastor.

Joe LoRusso showed me what it meant to put feet to my faith. He showed me how to be strong but also, to be true. When Rivers of Life merged with Victory Church to become Southgate, and I began to meet people and to make new friends, I’d occasionally hear that someone was “offended” at something Joe said. In fact, he misread a confidential e-mail I’d sent him and the other pastors one time (I was in a pretty dark place about the whole “can’t have kids” thing), and he had me come to the front of the church with my husband. He shared what I’d put in the letter–about my discouragement and my heartbreak–and he asked the church to pray for me. I can’t remember the details, but it got out that I’d wanted that information kept confidential. More than one person approached me in anger and said, “Aren’t you upset?!?!”  Never. Not once. Anyone that was offended by anything Joe LoRusso said didn’t know or appreciate his heart. Period.

I’ve never met another person with less pride or less self-promotion, than Joe LoRusso. I honestly do not believe he would ever/could ever intentionally insult or harm another person when it comes to wanting the best for them, or for wanting to see Jesus work in their lives. Maybe it didn’t come across in the fluffiest of ways–whatever. He loved people. He loved his church family. He loved his family with his whole heart, and I know he loved his wife.

My mother had a pastor and his wife that were like adopted parents to her. Milo & Edna were retired Baptist preachers who were married over 70 years, and passed away within months of each other. I watched them pour into my mother’s life for decades, and always appreciated the sheltering relationship they had with her. They told her the truth, in love, and they invested into her to make her love Jesus more. That’s what pastors do. That’s what shepherds do.

That’s what Joe & Sherry LoRusso have done for David & I, and for so many people, for decades.

I am so privileged to have known Joe, and to have been a part of the Rivers of Life congregation. Joe & Sherry have invested into David & I, even though it’s been 6 years since we’ve been in their congregation. They’ve made a lasting impact that has made us love Jesus more. They’ve given us truth in love, and they’ve shown us examples of being in the trenches with practical faith.

The LoRussos educated me on the beauty of the Italian family in a way that I had never really been exposed to (even though my dad is Italian). The sense of community that runs through their home extends to how they treat people in their church. Going to the LoRusso’s home was always full of laughter, hugs, amazing food, and lessons about everything from cooking, to spiritual growth, to parenting advice. Family is family, at church or at home—it’s consistent, because it’s genuine. That’s a beautiful thing to have, and to get to be a part of: Real, genuine people that genuinely love Jesus and want His will….that love people because He says to love them, and that care enough about you to give you the truth.

Joe LoRusso was a man of truth and of faith, and he lived it, 24/7. He proved that it can be done, all the way, in the valleys and on the mountains.

I know that it’s the “Christian-thing” to say—“to be absent from the body is to be home with the Lord.” I get it. And as a Christian, I know that Joe is with Jesus, and wouldn’t want it any other way. He’s a Good and Faithful Servant, and he’s in his reward–that’s amazing.

Joe’s a husband and a father. He’s a brother, an uncle, and a grandfather. He has an amazing family that is extremely, beautifully close, and his passing will leave a tremendous hole, so my heart hurts for all of them. The LoRusso legacy is strong in St. Louis, and he will be missed by so many.

Personally, I will miss seeing Joe peek into my church–which meets in that same building where everything, for The Cooleys, started–and sitting in his chair during worship. I’ll miss seeing him take over the pulpit when something would hit him just right (my former pastor would always give him due respect when he would visit, and would hand over the microphone if Joe would raise his hand. 🙂 I think anyone in our community would do the same). I’ll miss hearing his passion for Israel and for the Jewish community, and I’ll miss his jokes about soccer, red-cards, and old Westerns or military movies.

I don’t know how to conclude this…my heart hurts, and I feel like I’ve done a poor job of writing out just how much I appreciate this man. I’m so, so thankful for Joe & Sherry…I’m thankful for that day in 2005 where my bratty little feet shuffled their way into a small congregation on Lindbergh, and my life was forever changed.

Thank you, Joe LoRusso, for not being satisfied with simply becoming a Christian and then resting on your laurels. Thank you for your passionate, relentless pursuit of learning about this Jesus Who changes lives and mends hearts. Thank you for trusting Him to shape you into the man you became–the husband, father, pastor, intercessor, leader, and friend. Thank you for getting in the trenches with me and so many others over the years who were lost and embattled. Thank you for being that shepherd who isn’t just a pastor in title, but who actually lived the life and the sacrifice. Thank you for setting the example, and for giving the truth in love, even when it didn’t win you any fans. Thank you for not giving up, and for continuing to have faith and passion, even in the hardest of times. Thank you for having the strength to apologize when you made mistakes, and for being a humble leader, even when you had every reason to get prideful. Thank you for opening up your house to us (and our dog!), and for giving us a second home when we were lost in grief. Thank you for always, always taking the time to talk to me, even though I have the worst sense of timing. Thank you for never making me feel stupid, and for always treating me like I mattered.

Thank you for seeing David & I for who we really were, and for loving us as we were. We are grateful….You are so very loved.

well done

 

Cardiology Update!!!!

So, for any of y’all that don’t know, back in 2006, I delivered my daughter Hannah via emergency C-section due to severe preeclampsia.

Long story short, my physician was a third-generation OB/GYN who had basically written off my complaints of being short of breath during my second and third trimester. My daughter was delivered at 34 weeks, and the preeclampsia was “supposed” to resolve…except it got worse. I wound up in full congestive heart failure due to peripartum cardiomyopathy and pulmonary hypertension. My left ventricle blew up like a balloon–it was 3x the size of the rest of my heart, and my lungs were full of fluid. In the first night after my diagnosis, if I remember correctly, they removed 30 pounds of fluid from my body that I had retained. Dealing with that, post C-section? Not cool.

As most of you know, my daughter passed away at 29 days of age, due to Late-Onset Group B Strep and bacterial meningitis. Her cause of death was not due to my heart failure-it was a completely unrelated issue. We were told for years that due to the extent of the damage my heart had gone through, that we should never have another child….but we did not believe them. Cardiologist after cardiologist refused to see me as a patient, until Dr. Michael Paul, perinatologist at Mo-Bap, referred me to Dr. Robert Kopitsky, who did the right tests and discovered that miraculously, my heart had recovered to running at 50-55%, which was completely normal! I had no scarring, no permanent damage, and I was cleared to get pregnant with my son. It was the best news I’d ever heard!

Through my pregnancy with Jericho, my heart was closely monitored, and I was admitted to Mo-Bap at 32 weeks along. At that point, my cardiac function was already less than 30%. It continued to decline, and the decision was made to deliver early once again. I had excellent care, and my miracle baby was born! My heart was still an issue, and remained closely monitored & medicated for the next few years.

In 2016, I had an echocardiogram performed, and my cardiologist (I’d had to find a new doctor due to insurance changes) put my estimated cardiac function at 40-45%. That’s not bad, but it’s not normal; however, my cardiologist said it was acceptable and to be happy with it, “because you’re stuck there. I don’t think you’ll see those numbers improve.'”

And you know what? I was happy with that. I mean, c’mon, I almost died–twice! I’m happy with what I can get!!!! I took my regular meds and considered myself blessed!

Last month, my new PCP said it was time to check on my heart again. I’ve had some issues with stress, headaches, and back pain, so she wanted to rule anything out. My cardiologist agreed, so last week, I went in for a new echo. I got the phone call from his nurse today, as I was getting ready to leave my office.

MY HEART FUNCTION IS AT 60%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m completely floored–the nurse said, “We just don’t see that. We don’t see those numbers with people with your history. Someone is looking out for you, for sure.” HA!!!!! Ya’ THINK?!?!?!?

My mind is blown. Like, I wasn’t even praying about it–I just accepted 40-45% and went on my way. Subconsciously, I think I was writing off even trying to exercise or anything, because why bother if I’m “stuck?” I come from a long family history of crappy hearts, so I just took it for granted that this is my life.

BUT IT’S NOT.

God takes over and answers prayers when we don’t even ask. He works miracles that we don’t expect or anticipate. David & I are in this season of struggle, where things have been extremely stressful. Yet in this, over and over again, I keep seeing little things, and big things, and random things, that remind me that God is watching. He is PRESENT. He meets needs we didn’t even know that we had. He loves us, He works in our lives unexpectedly, AND HE STILL WORKS MIRACLES!!!

Spiritually, mentally, and now physically (multiple times!), my heart has been broken and repaired in miraculous ways. I know it may sound dramatic to say, but I will shout this testimony from the ROOFTOPS, y’all, because I know my God is in the business of healing hearts.

“My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King! My tongue is the pen of a ready writer. You are fairer than the sons of men; Grace is poured upon Your lips; Therefore, God has blessed You forever.”–Ps. 45:1-2, NASB

“Somebody Burned Down My She-Shed!”

Oh, the “She-Shed” commercial–you know the one!! Since we don’t have “regular” TV (the downside of living in a valley), the only time I ever hear the commercial is on the radio. When I Googled it to link it here, I decided that the “She-Shed” in the commercial is kinda glorious, you know?

I mean, just the concept–A She-Shed!!!  A quiet place, all my very own, to decorate how I want, and to do with what I want—GLORIOUS.  I think the concept of a private place that is unblemished by little fingerprints or man-boots…a place with perfect lighting and ambient music, with gentle motifs and plush carpet…oooh, okay, that sounds glorious.  My She-Shed would be devoted to crafts; the thermostat would never be above or below 65; I’d have inlaid bookcases, & no one would make me watch YouTube videos about Legos or camera lenses…aaaaaahhhhhhh….Oh, and it would smell of lavender & chocolate chip cookies. Always.

And I’d never leave. 🙂

Cue the music…”in my own little corner, in my own little world.….”

We have this unrequited need to have our Very Own Space in this world, and yes, even though our HOUSE is supposed to be that place, as we grow up we find that it’s not. No, our house gets taken over by stuff, or by the people, or by The Legos, or by the whatevers. It’s hard to maintain the upkeep of keeping your home a place of peace in a world that cranks out materialist must-haves at an alarming rate. Every time I Marie-Kondo my house, I make these wonderful spaces that fill back up again in spite of my promises to myself that it’s not going to happen. I’ve pared down and pared down and pared down, and recent events mean that nope–I’m not filling ANYTHING back up again, and it’s okay.

Learning to make do, and to be okay with making do, is an adventure. It’s frustrating, but it’s something we should all be good at by the age that I’m at (I’m not). The more we pare down or get used to telling ourselves, “no,” the more resourceful we find we are. The more we miss going and doing “the things,” the more I’m appreciating the quiet weekends at home. It takes more creativity to stay busy on the weekends when you don’t have the resources to do what you want (truth be told, we’re not really doing anything on the weekends right now. The weather is crap, and blankets are awesome. It’s an issue). In this process, I’m realizing there were a lot of ruts we were stuck in; there were a lot of patterns we were set in that needed to break. It’s not a fun process, truth be told, but the longer we’re in this boat, the more I realize we’re floating. It’s rough waters, but we’re together.

Last week, we faced some scary decisions…At one point, I was laying on the couch, and David had his head on my lap. My son took the opportunity to make a “DAD SANDWICH!” and pounced on top of him; meanwhile, the dog laid at the foot of the couch so that I couldn’t have got off of the couch if I tried.

I looked down at all of my happiness…my husband, my son, my dog…I know it probably sounds cheesy, but with these decisions looming over my head, in that moment, I felt like I could physically shove the anxiety off of my shoulders. Regardless of what happens…regardless of the outcome…this little group of 4 is everything to me. Everyone in that little circle–even the dog–is an answer to prayer and a reminder of how faithful the Lord is.

I’m choosing joy.

I’m choosing contentment.

I’m choosing to Consider the Lilies, and I’m choosing to stay in the room with this tribe.

I’m not going to lie–I’d love to retreat to my mental She-Shed and just check out. But it’s not what we do. It’s not what Jesus does. He dives in and surrounds the four of us–even the dog–and He wraps us in His arms.  He holds us. He has more of a reason to mentally check out than anyone, yet He stays involved. He’s never distant.

When I was in high school, we studied a book about world views, and one of them discussed the concept of Deism. My understanding of Deism is that God basically set everything in motion in some way–the Big Bang, Intelligent Design, whatever–and then He just steps back and watches us do whatever. He doesn’t intervene; He gives us passing interest, but He lets us live our lives while He does His Own thing. This view of God always struck me as the saddest, because why should we love a Father Who’s checked out?  Why should we care about the “will” of a God Who sits back in His Celestial Man Cave while we run around in the rat traps of earth?

It’s the same kind of philosophy that inspires us to want to hide in She-Sheds or Man-Caves or under a blanket in our bedrooms until the drama subsides. It solves nothing, it helps no one, and it’s entirely narcissistic. Granted, everyone needs some time alone sometimes. I’m not saying that’s a bad idea, and if you have the means to make a She-Shed, Sheryl, BUILD THE THING, OKAY?!? 🙂

Just don’t be surprised if it gets struck by lightning.

I’m kidding!  But seriously, we’re so inundated with noise and drama–my last blog discusses the beauty of getting small, and the appreciation for the quiet. There’s a time for noise and a time for drama, but there’s also a time for being involved and for community. Families aren’t made of individuals who hide and ignore each other. They’re made in the side-by-side, day-to-day relationships we form when we work together. They’re solidified by relationships with our ever-involved God, and with each other. They take constant work, but there’s a constant reward that it so worth it–I have to remind myself of that, because as I age I get more inclined to hide under that blanket.

If I hid in my She-Shed, or under that blanket, I’d miss the peace I found in the family picture of the four of us crowded around/on the couch. I’d miss that gentle reminder from the Lord of all that He’s done and will do, and is doing. I’d miss the reminders in church on Sunday of the people He’s placed in my life, and of the people in who’s lives He’s placed me.

He surrounds us with reminders of His love in the midst of every storm. Sometimes, we don’t see them until we’re through to the other side, and that’s okay. Sometimes, though, they’re undeniably present…as long as we’re present, and don’t check out into our mental She-Sheds or Man Caves.

Stay present. I love the cheesy saying that “it’s called The Present for a reason.” It really is a gift, albeit an occasionally frightening one. Storms don’t go away just because we find a place to hide–we have to face them. But when we face them and when we get present with those storms, we know that He is present WITH us–we’re not alone.

The world tells us to hide and to isolate; it glamorizes the concept a place of our own, but Jesus tells us to Go Out Into All of the World. He tells us to be open and to engage…He tells us He will be with us. He tells us we’re never alone, and that we always have a place of our own, in His Kingdom, in His time. Now is not the time for the She Shed or the Man Cave….Now is the time to change the world, and we do that by building relationships and by celebrating the relationships that we have.

Now, if only I could convince myself to get off of this dang couch….. 🙂

 

Mary, Martha, and the Beauty in the Small…

The world is buried in a cacophony of sound and volume.

We think everything has to be “harder, better, faster, stronger” (shout-out to Kanye for that earworm); everything has to be so much more “-er,” or it’s just not good enough.  We can’t be satisfied with “basic.” In fact, the term “basic” is now an insult! We’ve completely forgotten how to be satisfied with the “bare necessities” that our dear Baloo sang about with such sweet abandon. Everything has to be “Extra,” and if it’s not, well, then it’s “basic,” and that’s BAD. J

It’s so hard to just get quiet.

It’s difficult to get low…to get completely focused…to see the Beauty in the Small.

Last Sunday, I was privileged to be on an “abbreviated” worship team of 3 people. In a church that averages around 50 people or less, we usually have a team that includes a keyboardist/singer, another keyboardist/singer, a guitarist/singer, a bassist, an acoustic guitar player, a drummer, a bongo/cajon player, and 3 background vocalists (of which I am 1). That’s a worship team that’s around 20% of the size of the congregation.

I know that sometimes, there’s a focus on the “sound” that emanates from a team of musicians and singers. Number = volume = emotional impact. I’m not really about that (and that’s not intended to be any kind of a derogatory thought or statement). I’ve been on teams of 40-50 singers, and I’ve been on teams of 2, and one thing I’ve found is that if a heart for worship is there, the Holy Spirit moves. His heart isn’t moved by numbers or volume. His heart is moved by worship, and by a willingness to put ourselves out there to focus on Him.

That’s hard to do when you’re dealing with distractions.

Distractions come in so many forms. As a singer, I struggle with technology (anyone else hate Avioms? Or at least, Avioms that seem to have been chewed up internally by rabid mice? Okay, that hasn’t LITERALLY happened, but my Aviom is constantly going in-and-out, and that is a…problem). I struggle with understanding cues, and with knowing my place. I struggle with my age—am I still relevant as a team member in worship, at 41, when more and more kids and young adults are coming up? I don’t understand click tracks and talk-backs, and I’m not a musician, so I don’t always understand the “right” chord progression. I have this terrible tendency to switch harmonies in the middle of a song if I don’t stay focused, which is a nightmare for anyone singing with me (I’d assume—most people are nice to me about it). More times than not, I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking, “Dear God, I’m a mess. I’m TERRIBLE.” I’m distracted by my own self-esteem, and every single Sunday, I have to push past that to focus on the reason why we come together as a team to worship God: He is worthy. He is so much more worthy of our praise and our attention. He is EVERYTHING, and everything else is NOTHING, so I push it aside—as does every other musician on the team—and we unify in the single focus of worshipping our Savior.

Sometimes it’s messy…but He is always glorified, and we always have the privilege of watching a congregation join us on that journey to praise Jesus.

So, last Sunday, most of our team was at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, taking part in the final One Thing conference. The theme was, “Reset,” and David & I live-streamed as much of it as possible. So many things from the conference really resonated with me…particularly, the discussion led by Corey Russell about Mary of Bethany, and her dear sister, Martha (who is one of my favorite people in the Bible…can’t imagine why).

Martha & I have a LOT in common. Mary and my husband have a LOT in common. My sister and I are about as naturally opposite as two people can get. Mary and Martha were about as naturally opposite as two people can get. J

I identify so strongly with those two sisters.

Martha had work to do, dangit! None of this sittin’ around, listening, whatever! There’s food to make, dishes to wash, things to clean! “You got time to lean, you got time to clean,” right? All of this lounging around, listening to some Guy talk?!?! Ain’t nobody got time for that!!! DANGIT, MARY, GET YOUR REAR IN HERE AND HELP ME!!!!!!!!”  How many times have those words come out of my mouth to my husband?!?  “DAVID!!!!!!!!!!!  Put your tablet/Bible/whatever down and HELP ME!!!” “WHY can’t anyone see that I need help? Why do I always have to ASK?!? Why doesn’t anyone have INITIATIVE to come in here and do the stuff that needs to be done?!?!?!”  Oh, Martha, I love you—I’m so glad the Lord saw fit to put you in the Bible, because women like me NEED to know we’re not tyrants. We’re just the kind of people that see a need and fill it, and pour out constantly….

And we pour ourselves into exhaustion and in doing things in our own strength, because we NEVER take the time to get Small, and get focused.

We never get out of our own heads to find our rest in Him, because we’re convinced in our broken arrogance that the volume of our work, and the number of our works, will turn the heart of God and everyone else.

We break when our efforts go unacknowledged, because we strive so much, even subconsciously, to be recognized and valued.

We so often forget that when we get Small and get focused, then we can hear Him say, “I love you. Just rest.”

BUT WE CAN’T REST, RIGHT?!?!?  THERE ARE THINGS TO DOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

We are distracted, even with our good intentions.

It’s time to stop.

Last Sunday, 3 people came together in worship. It wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t bombastic or voluminous. It was simple…basic (in the best way)…and it was beautiful. It was Small, and it was intimate, and it felt like a healing balm in my heart.

When things are quieter, you have to listen harder. You have to focus more; you can’t be distracted, because then you miss the cues and there’s nothing that you can hide behind.  There isn’t a blanket of sound that covers mistakes or cushions missed cues. It’s stripped down, and it’s pure…

There is Beauty in the Small.

For us Marthas in the world, we “go big or go home.” We’re going to do what we have to do; we’re going to do it to the best of our abilities. We’re going to produce good works, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It becomes “wrong” when it becomes our focus, instead of the Jesus we say we want to serve. How can we hear what He wants when we’re so busy doing what we think needs to be done? If we don’t have those “Mary Moments” where we get quiet and focus at his feet…where we go Small and seek intimacy…how will know His heart?

We “go big,” but ultimately, in an All-Martha world, we get broken.

The Beauty of the Small is that in it, we find rest. We find focus; we find His heart in the simplicity and we are refueled and refocused to face the complicated.

The world throws volume and distraction our way….it keeps us from worship, and it keeps us from that place at His feet that He’s reserved for us.  When we reset, we find our seat with Him…where we are His, and He is ours, and the joy of the Bridegroom for His Bride is complete.

As I stated in my last blog, my husband lost his job shortly before Christmas. There’s a funny thing that happens when your finances get cut by 60%:  You stop running around. You no longer have the resources to fund things to do, so you find yourself staying home the majority of the time. Truth be told, had we done more of that prior to him losing his job, we probably wouldn’t have some of the financial troubles we’re currently struggling with. The sudden lack of income has left us reeling and has forced us to break down expenses, debts, excuses, bad decisions, and a lot of things we didn’t realize or didn’t want to deal with. Staying busy means that you can often ignore reality. Getting suddenly “unbusy” means reality comes crashing in, along with a WHOLE LOT of fear, failures, burdens, and things we hadn’t realized were quite so strong in our lives.

As a family, we’re in a bit of a “forced” Mary-Moment, and the Martha in me is FREAKING OUT. It’s a minute-by-minute process to stop, breathe, refocus, pray, and beg for peace. The conversations between my husband and I have been brutal, and outside of the death of our daughter, this is the hardest thing our marriage has been through. The anxiety is crushing, & while David tends to internalize to the point of my frustration, I am fighting to keep from exploding (to the point of HIS frustration). We don’t know how to deal with or process any of this…but we are. What else can we do?

And where else can we go? We have One place to turn with all of this.

Day by day, we look at each other…we watch our words very carefully, and sometimes, we fail. There’s a lot of unraveling…but as difficult as this is, we are taking the deep breaths and walking the path.

It’s not God’s “fault.” It’s an uncomfortable redirection, and it hurts. I don’t want to say “He has a plan,” because that phrase is so cliché. I want to say that He knows what’s happening, and what’s going to happen, so I will trust Him. We will trust Him…but to hear where He’s taking us, we have to embrace this Mary Moment, to focus, and to stay at His feet, even as everything within me wants to get up and run. “WHY ISN’T THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO TO FIX THIS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!” It’s not in my nature to sit down and wait.

It’s time to get a new nature.

It’s time to find the Beauty in the Small…to realize the vanity of the distracting…to dull the outside noise and to take off the burden of the to-do list.  It’s time to celebrate intimacy with the Father in quiet and in worship without the vanity of volume.

It’s time to reset.

 

(BTW, if you are looking for worship songs to help you in your journey of resting in Jesus, check out my friend, Bizzy Grapperhaus. She’s written so many songs that I call, “milestone songs;” the songs are Scripture-based, and for me, have truly helped key verses get ingrained into my heart through some of my toughest times. Right now, “Drink Offering,” “Here We Are,” and “Faithful as the Son” are on repeat on my Spotify account. This is NOT a sponsored plug, if you’re wondering; it’s just truth, because she’s awesome.)

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Cinnamon Rolls, Reality TV, and a Pink Slip for the Holidays…

I’ve been baking this holiday season….a LOT. I love the “Great British Bake-Off,” “Nailed It,” and basically any baking show that Netflix will offer. I like the challenge of it, I like learning new techniques, and I like discovering things I’ve never heard of (thank you, Paul Hollywood). I’ve realized that Americans are kinda crappy at baking, embracing loud colors and crazy fillings over subtle flavors and maybe even over techniques. I’m learning to value the time-tested traditions of doing things by hand.

There is so much value in what you make with your own two hands.

So, I scour my old cookbooks (like, 1950’s), my favorite websites (Buzzfeed/Tasty), and my favorite–the old church cookbooks that I inherited from a retired pastor’s wife. You find some real gems in there that are an education! It’s always a lesson, whether it’s in the mistakes, the measuring, or in the successes.

For Christmas, I made my usual–Russian Tea Cakes, Peanut Butter Cookies, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Sugar Cookies (which are from the pits of Hell). I also, for the very first time, made a gingerbread house THAT IS STILL STANDING!!! (Note: I am a CRAP decorator, when it comes to icing cookies. Just absolute CRAP. I accept it. Don’t judge me, Prue.)!!

The gingerbread was actually quite tasty, but the best part of all, was the fact that I got to recreate a favorite memory of mine, with my son. My mama was a single mom for a brief while, and a lady she worked with invited us over to make gingerbread houses, and I loved it. Jericho had a blast decorating the house, and a memory was made.

I also made an angel food cake from scratch; I tackled fondant for the first time; and I made a total of 4 different kinds of icing throughout the holiday season.

Man, I’m TIRED.

Baking has been therapeutic for me, for sure, although the mess has definitely increased David’s stress level!

I have some vacation time over this holiday, so I’ve been staying up a bit later than usual. Last night, I tried to watch a documentary on Netflix about memes and social media in society. It documented the hazards and the blessings of people who have made careers out of social media–Paris Hilton, some guy named Krill, The Fat Jewish–I didn’t get very far, because what they were saying was hurting my heart. They talked about “likes” being an addiction…about getting out of bed every morning, and pouring their time and attention into what was getting “likes” on social media. Paris was saying something about loving her fans just as much as she loves her family!!!! The fans are what fuels these media titans, and I just don’t understand it.

Granted, I’m HARDLY their demographic. I’m not cool, and I’m okay with that. I’ll stick to stalking my bakers on Instagram, and be on my merry way. That’s totally fine. These social media people look happy, and I guess they are? I can’t judge that. But I wonder who hugs them when the internet goes down? Who rubs their shoulders when they cry, and who plays frisbee with them on summer days? I mean, I’m sure they could post a call-out on Instagram and find 5 “friends” in 5 minutes, but who holds their hearts? “Likes” don’t fill the hole in our heart, and things sure get messy when the camera pans out.

Baking is a FANTASTIC reflection of my life right now…don’t things look pretty? Look at this gorgeous cinnamon roll! Not too bad, for my first time at this recipe! Once these babies proof tomorrow for a second time, they’re gonna rock our world!!!

I’ve posted the link to this recipe at the end of the blog. LOOK AT MY GORGEOUS PAN OF CINNAMON ROLLS!!!!!!

This recipe is COMPLICATED, to me (not to Paul Hollywood…sigh…). It takes patience, time, and some skills that I’m still working on. (BTW, if you make this, don’t use a spatula to spread out the filling. Use your hands. It makes the butter spread more evenly.)

My beautiful little pans of rolls are sitting in my fridge, and will proof for 40 minutes tomorrow before baking and icing. I’m EXCITED. And if you look at this pan, you see delectable cinnamon rolls…and that’s all you see….but here’s what’s really going on (pans the camera out):

It’s an effing disaster.

I’m a really, really messy cook…my kitchen is TINY…there were already dishes in the sink when I started…and why is my Dremel on the counter?!?!? This messy kitchen has already ruined one cake this season, when I spilled water on a 2-tiered cake and trashed the whole thing (including ganache). There’s always a mess, but we do get it cleaned up when all is said and done.

But you’d never know that, from the close-up of my beautiful cinnamon roll dough.

When we only focus on what we want to see, we are lying to ourselves. We are ignoring the mess, the process that got us to where we are, and the consequences of our actions. Social media stars only show you what they want you to see–the cinnamon rolls, which is why you love them–and never show you the mess behind the scenes. They’re succeeding based on a fictionalized, glamorized, perfect life–which we all want–and telling us we can have it all without the mess.

It’s not real.

There’s never a cinnamon roll without some flour….or without some dirty pans…or without the aching hands that come from kneading. There are messes built into our perceived perfection, and as a society, we’ve forgotten how to value that part of the process.

I’m just as guilty as the next person of only posting the “good life.” I post the cinnamon rolls–not the mess. I post the laughing–not the tears from the fight from the day before.

I just posted happy Christmas photos of my son and of my family….

I didn’t post that one month ago today, my husband lost his job, and with it, over half of our income.

I didn’t post that we’re individually and corporately gutted…that we’re in a mess, and that we don’t know what to do. I posted that God provides–He does–but not the tears and the prayers and the kindness that people have shown us privately.

I didn’t post the fears or the failures…the struggles David & I are having as we come to grips with new responsibilities and accountabilities, or the anxiety and overwhelming panic that has set in on multiple occasions.

No doubt, the hardest thing we’ve ever been through has been the loss of our daughter. This comes in second, even over cancer. We’ve looked at each other with every conceivable emotion over the past 30 days, and have struggled with keeping words in check. This is hard, and we’re struggling to regroup, even as we know God is in control and that He provides. It’s still frickin’ hard, and that’s all there is to it.

I want the cinnamon roll posts. I want to laugh, and show pictures of smiling faces. No one wants to see anyone look as awful as we feel right now, and I certainly don’t want to put that out on social media. I totally get why the social media stars paint their cinnamon-roll lives. I want to, as well..but reality is what we all deal with, so painting perfection is deceptive at best.

We serve a God of truth, not a god of entertainment. We serve a God of messy kitchens and of cinnamon rolls, a God of time-proven redemption, verses a god of microwave solutions. We serve a God that sees our messes and loves us through them. He sees our mistakes, our tears, and eventually, only He can weave them into portraits that don’t need Instagram filters or clicks.

We serve a God that is constantly reminding me that He cares about the sparrows…about the lilies of the field and the lost, the broken, the found and the repaired.

Social media, and social media stars, are visual candy in a world that is starving for steak. It’s better to take the time and effort to be the steak–to be the thing that sustains and nourishes–than to be the instant gratification of the “pretty” that we see on camera. It’s just not as easy to process or to implement.

So, that’s the truth. We paint pictures of pretty families and beautiful Christmases, and everyone “likes” it and calls themselves your “friend,” but it’s not real, and we have to understand that this faux “reality” is anything but. What’s real, is the person you call when you’re down…the person who shows up at your door, the person you stop everything to visit when they’re ill, and the face-to-face time (not the “facetime”) spent together. Real people, real prayers, real heart, and real love….even when it’s really messy.

In my last blog, I alluded to the fact that we were struggling, and now you know why. We are, though, still together, still trying to figure it out, and still dedicated to maintaining a happy household for our son. We’re so blessed that we have family, friends, and a church that is there for us–in person–to sustain us with prayer and love. We’re so, so grateful.

So grateful, in fact, that I think I’m going to have to bake another batch or two of these cinnamon rolls.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/hannahloewentheil/cinnamon-rolls-from-scratch-recipe-tips?utm_term=.rcVo9GAR9G#.rcVo9GAR9G

Mommy Bloggers & the White Women of Hope (in the Real World)

Dear Mommy Bloggers and White-Chick-Motivational-Speakers:

Hi.

I wanted to be like you, more than you could possibly know.

I wanted the Pinterest life, the 2.5 kids, the I-Can-Bake-Sugar-Cookies-And-Not-Get-Flour-Anywhere perfection that’s gorgeously-photographed-with-a-perfect-filter persona.

I wanted to have the right Bible verse at the right time, to show you and everyone that I. Am. A. Good. Christian. Wife.

I wanted the en-pointe brow, the Jenner-worthy highlight, and the Hatmaker-moxie that makes everyone love me and want to be like me…Just. Like. You.

I wanted to be Candace.

I wanted to be Jen.

I wanted to be Glennon.

 

I can’t.

 

Am I the only one that sees these “normal” women and weeps because they feel like their life is wasted in a reality that is NOTHING like what they read? Am I the only one that can’t listen to someone tell me, “Girl, Wash Your Face,’ because at this point, there aren’t any bootstraps to pull myself up by? Am I the only one that had a dream that keeps getting derailed by illness or finances or a million other obstacles that just keep coming, one after another, without a break?

 

Am I the only one that’s about to give it all up?

 

There are things in my life that I was told would never happen—my son, first and foremost—and they DID happen, so I know it’s possible. I know it CAN happen, but what does it take? Why am I not good enough, if I truly am giving my best?

 

How much more of myself do I have to pour out, before there is that promised refreshing of the Spirit? Before the “potential” is the realized present?

 

I’m not whining or indulging in defeat. These are honest questions that we as Christians need to be willing to ask with open hearts. These are questions that are very easy to slap a Bible verse and a Snapchat filter on, along with a “Cheer up, Charlie!”  response, but all that does is create impressions of a Martha-Stewart Reality. Jesus doesn’t listen to hurting hearts and say, “Girl, get yourself up and out of that funk, right now!”

Jesus says, “You’re hurting, and I know it. I feel it, and I’m here. You won’t be in this place forever, daughter, but you’re here now, and I’m here, too. Today, we rest. Rest in Me. I know you feel defeated. I know you feel like you’re at the bottom. I know you want to give up.

I know you’re broken.

I’m here to make you whole.

But it’s going to take a while.”

The Song of Solomon says, “Do not awaken Love before its time.” (Song of Solomon 2:7; 3:5; 8:4) It actually says it like, 3 times in the book, so that tells me it’s important. The dangers of focusing on the Mommy Bloggers and the White Women of Hope are that the image and the promises are instantaneous, although I do not think that’s their intention. We see the Glennons and the Jens and we see beautiful faces and gorgeous honesty…we see the aftermath, and we think our redemption and the answer to our problems is RIGHT NOW.

 

Well, I’m here to tell myself and to remind myself (and you, maybe) that we don’t want to awaken Love before its time. The statement tells us, it reminds us, that everything has a TIME—everything has a designated time and a designated process, and we (I) always hurt the most when my time frame and His time frame don’t match up.

 

He has a plan for my life.

I can’t see it, right now.

Right now, I’m an internal ball of electrified yarn, and every time I try to untangle it, I get shocked by the situation I’m in, and wounded even further.

I have to wait this out, and as I once told a friend of mine, “there is breaking in the waiting.”

 

I’m not pretty right now.

I’m not Pinterest-worthy (not that I ever was).

I don’t have pithy sayings and roll-script placards to hang in my foyer (LOL—like I have a foyer).

I want to awaken Love, and see the end of this story, because THIS CHAPTER SUCKS. (Underlined, italics, all-caps—get it?!?!?!?!?!??  I really, REALLY mean it. This chapter sucks. Completely.)

 

I am going out on a limb and saying that I need prayer right now. My family needs prayer. I hate saying that, because I feel like there’ve been so many times where we’ve had a “dramatic” thing happen and have needed prayer; it’s very hard for me to suck up my pride and just admit it right now. My little family is broken, and our hearts are hurting. We need supernatural provision and for doors to open in unforeseen ways.

 

I need peace that passes all understanding, and the physical capability to cope with the stress that we’re under. I need a refreshing in my heart that pushes past the things I see—the Jens and the Glennons and the Candaces—and seals in my heart the love and value that God sees in me, because I can’t see it right now.

 

The disappointment that is choking me is usurping my ability to find the joy in every situation, which is something I’ve always said I wanted to maintain. I can’t laugh, and that’s not like me, so this has to lift. I’m being transparent, here—the depression/anxiety that is always on the brink is threatening much more than just my sanity this time, and I’m struggling to fight through it (and yes, I’m medicated, but that only goes so far). This year is ending on the battlefield, and we’re wounded.

 

So, I can try to read the words of the Jens and the Glennons and the Candaces (and even the Voskamps), but they’re bouncing off, because all I taste is the bitterness of a sanitized presentation.

Then again, who wants to read the words written from the middle of Ground Zero?

 

Sometimes, I look back on what I wrote in the thick of it, in other times in my life.

I look back on the things I said from Ground Zero, and I remember the journey out of that valley.

 

I’ve been here before.

 

It’s different, but familiar

And I know that God is faithful,

Even when I’m broken.

 

I’m not going to awaken Love before its time.

I’m not going to read someone else’s words about how they went from nothing-to-something, or from broken-to-whole.

They’re not me, and the more I think about them, the more I sink into a pit of jealousy and frustration.

 

I’m going to read the words of eternal Life,

And I’m going to cry, and break, and be a snotty, un-Snapchattable, Pinterest-failure of a person, and I’m going to (eventually) accept that it’s okay.

 

I’m going to put one foot in front of another, and most likely, trip and fall flat on my face…again…and again….and again…

But eventually,

I’ll get back up, as will my household.

 

For right now, though, we are in yet-another valley, & there aren’t enough pithy sayings from the White Women of Hope that can pull us out.

 

We will not awaken Love before its time…we will go through this process, and we will embrace the hurting; we will learn the lessons we need to learn, and we will be as transparent as we need to be, even when it breaks our pride & makes us feel raw & exposed. We will accept the failure on our own, & we will not whitewash it in Magnolia paints or Pinterest craft boards. We will live in this moment, and maintain the hope that we have that it’s not forever. It’s a time, and there isn’t a fast-forward button on this one.

 

And someday, He will make the exchange of Beauty for Ashes, and we will see how His hand worked through it all…because He is Who He says He is, and through it all, we believe.